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Opening the border crossings will not resolve the Syrian regime’s problem

October 23, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Syrians wait at the border areas near Jordan after escaped from Syria on 30 June 2018 [Ammar Al Ali/Anadolu Agency]

A week ago, the Naseeb-Jaber border crossing between Syria and Jordan, as well as the Quneitra crossing between Syria and the Golan Heights – currently under Israeli occupation – were reopened. On the same day, the Iraqi and Syrian foreign ministers met in the Syrian capital Damascus, the latter pointing to the imminent opening of the Abu Kamal crossing between the two countries.

There was no information on the crossings into Turkey – the only outlet for people living in the north of Syria. As for Lebanon, the border with Syria was not closed at any point and remains the sole outlet for residents in areas under the Syrian regime’s control – in central and southern Syria, as well as on the coast.

Each of the five neighbouring countries has a special status based on its position on and role in the now eight-year crisis in war-torn Syria.

For example, the alliance of the Syrian and Iranian regimes played a role in activating the political influence of Iran in Iraq and Lebanon, in turn preventing them from taking an anti-Syrian stance. However, the ability of these regimes to grant it external “legitimacy” seems limited, even non-existent in light of its need for international acceptance.

Although Jordan maintained a minimum level of relations and intelligence communication with the Syrian regime, it refused to send a minister to Damascus to agree on the opening of the crossing, despite the insistence of the Syrian side. In other words, Amman does not consider the reopening of the crossing as political normalisation with the regime.

READ: Jordan, Syria reopen border crossing

In the case of the Golan Heights, the return of international peacekeeping forces and the presence of Russian police units on the border required that it be reopened. The provision of contact between Druze families divided between the Syrian interior and the Golan Heights was an additional factor motivating the opening of the crossing.

It is worth mentioning that most Israeli officials praised Al-Assad and his regime, and expressed explicit support for him remaining in power.

There is no problem between Baghdad and Damascus that prevents the reopening of one of the three crossings between the two countries – the Abu Kamal crossing. One of the others was closed by the USA after Iranian militias tried to use it to cross into Damascus, while Kurdish forces control the other one in the north-eastern part of the country.

The US demands strict control and monitoring of the Abu Kamal crossing so that it will not be an outlet for the opening of the Tehran-Beirut passageway. Therefore, opening the crossing requires commitment from the Iraqi side not to allow the Iranians to approach the border, as well as Russia’s commitment on behalf of the Syrian side.

READ: Iraq FM: Syria should return to the Arab League

However, the main complication lies in the crossings with Turkey, divided between the Kurds in the east and Turkey itself in the centre and west. Although Russia believes that the recent Sochi meeting with Turkey does not prevent the regime’s restoration of Idlib, it is postponing discussions over the border crossings.

It is clear that the Syrian regime thought that, on the one hand, regaining control would impose a status quo on all countries, forcing them to resume dealing with it. On the other hand, the worst case scenario would be that Russia would put pressure on international parties to restore recognition of the regime. However, the current developments do not seem to be in line with this scenario.

The Russian-American rapprochement has not taken place, and the Ukrainian issue is still hindering any Russian-European rapprochement. However, Moscow, which wants to end the war in Syria, only sees this goal as being achieved by launching a reconstruction workshop, and in order to do this, it requires Western funding.

The Western countries have linked funding to a political solution, but the solution envisioned by Moscow and Damascus involves the presence of Al-Assad and his security regime. This will result in international sanctions, which does not encourage any country to invest in Syria.

READ: Putin says Daesh has seized 700 hostages in Syria

This article first appeared in Arabic in the New Khaleej on 23 October 2018

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.